Israel says no talks if Hamas in Palestinian government

Israel says no talks if Hamas in Palestinian government
Photo: Reuters

Jerusalem: Israel today said it would not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes a role for the militant Hamas group, laying down a significant potential roadblock to already complicated Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said there would be no talks with the Palestinians unless Hamas agrees to a series of conditions it is unlikely to accept, including recognizing Israel and agreeing to disarm.

The announcement came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government is in talks with Hamas over ending a 10-year split.

Under Egyptian auspices, the Palestinian factions last week announced a preliminary agreement and have formed committees to sort out unresolved issues, most notably who will control Hamas’ massive weapons arsenal.

While agreeing to turn over all governing responsibilities to Fatah, Hamas has said control of its weapons is not up for negotiation. That would leave Hamas with significant behind-the-scenes influence over Palestinian affairs, even if does not have an official role in the next government.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’ forces in 2007, leaving the Palestinians divided between two governments. Previous reconciliation attempts have failed, and there is no guarantee that the current round of talks will succeed.

Netanyahu’s stance matched past demands placed on Hamas by Israel and the international community, that it renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

But today’s statement added some new conditions, including that Abbas’ government continue a crackdown on Hamas militants in the West Bank, that Hamas sever ties with Iran, and that it return the remains of two Israeli soldiers and two living Israeli civilians believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.

Ahmad Majdalani, an aide to Abbas, said that Hamas would not be part of the new government and would only be included if it accepts the president’s agenda of pursuing a peace agreement with Israel.

“Netanyahu is looking for a reason to continue undermining the two-state solution,” he said, adding that Israel’s continued settlement of occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians is the real reason for the impasse.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

Abbas seeks an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel captured the territories in 1967, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The last round of peace talks broke down in 2014. President Donald Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has been shuttling throughout the region in search of a formula to restart talks. His office had no immediate comment on Netanyahu’s announcement.

There also was no immediate comment from Egypt.